The Daytona 500 was a blast and a long shot came through — Ricky Stenhouse at +4,000. This week, NASCAR returns to real racing. This does not mean the long shots are out of the picture. The Gen 7 car has created parity and Auto Club (Fontana) is an equalizer in itself. This isn’t a Daytona do-over, but the favorites are not guarantees in race No. 2 of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Auto Club (Fontana) is a two-mile intermediate track. In the past, the track was commonly and affectionately referred to as a giant dirt track due to its worn, abrasive surface. Last season in the Gen 7 car, which relies heavily on underbody downforce, Fontana lived up to the reputation. This is a wild ride. The greater challenge favors the more skilled drivers — the favorites. However, there will be wrecks. These wrecks will take out the favorites. There will be cautions that shake up the running order. Restarts proliferate, and surprise winners are not out of the question. Surprise top-10 and top-20 finishes are common in California.
Race Winner — Pala Casino 400
Kyle Larson +650
It’s a big dirt track, so pick the legendary dirt tracker. Larson is the favorite and rightfully so. He won last season’s race at Fontana. Before that race, California Covid restrictions prevented a 2021 race. The 2019 and 2020 races were low-horsepower, high-downforce package races. Also, Larson’s Chip Ganassi equipment wasn’t great as the team wound down their involvement in stock car racing. From 2016 to 2018, NASCAR raced high-horsepower, low-downforce packages similar to the Gen 7 model that is in use this season. Larson wrecked in 2016, but he won in 2017 and finished second in 2018. Going back further to 2014, Larson’s rookie season in the Cup Series, he finished second in just the fifth race of his Cup Series career.
Chase Briscoe +4,000
No one wants to be too early but no one wants to be too late. Was Briscoe’s long 2022 playoff run legit or was it the product of dirty racing and a 2022 Next Gen car that would break down at a moment’s notice? The public and the book are not Briscoe backers. They’re not buying it. He’s a long shot, but the Indiana kid has always been a long shot. His Truck Series career was a mild disaster, and his Xfinity Series opportunity started out rocky other than a Roval win that carries a large asterisk (there’s a reason NASCAR ended stage racing at road courses). Ford and Tony Stewart took a chance on Briscoe in 2020. The young racer knew he needed to win eight Xfinity races to establish himself. Everyone scoffed at his goal, but they appreciated his honesty. He won nine for good measure. Anyone that doesn’t believe in his talent or motivation is not watching the laps. Briscoe could be on the precipice of a breakout season. Even if this isn’t his year, this could be his week. Briscoe is a dirt-track racer that grew up straddling the cushion. Ripping the wall at Fontana is nothing to him. In interviews, Briscoe has expressed his fondness for this track and has compared it to a dirt track.
Check back later this week for additional NASCAR matchup bets and prop bets as they become available on DraftKings Sportsbook.
Race Winner — Pala Casino 400
Austin Cindric +7,500
This may be going too far, but it’s early in the season. We are not sure what to expect from the 2023 Gen 7 racing package. Also, this is only year two for Austin Cindric. A light bulb could turn on in his head. He struggled in his first full-time Xfinity Series season, but then went on to almost win back-to-back championships. These are long odds for a great Penske car. Crew chief Jeremy Bullins has been more successful with short, flat track and plate-track setups, but Bullins earned three top-10 finishes (one top 5) at Auto Club from 2017-2019 with Ryan Blaney and another top-5 finish with Brad Keselowksi in 2020. Cindric qualified on the pole for last season’s unofficial season opener at Fontana, and proved he was not completely lost at this track by finishing 12th in his second start as a full-time Cup Series racer.
Alex Bowman +2,000
If dirt-track racing is an important component, then Bowman is in the fold. No one runs more dirt races than Kyle Larson, but Bowman is second in dirt laps. He has become a regular every offseason at the Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Not to mention, Bowman led the most laps and won this event in 2020. He missed most of the end of last season due to a concussion, but he was strong in one of his final races. At Kansas, a track with a fast groove close to the wall, Bowman led the most laps (107) and finished fifth.
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. +5,000
Winning back-to-back races is rare for an elite driver, it’s unheard of from a Stenhouse type. However, if there was a moment to capitalize on momentum, this is the week. Stenhouse is playing with house money at the Pala Casino 400. He has a win in the bank. Although a win no longer guarantees a meaningless playoff spot, it’s still a highly coveted Cup Series win. They are precious personally and financially. Stenhouse may not experience an upgrade in equipment on Sunday, but he will not approach Fontana with limits. Drivers and teams alike, will lean towards preservation early in the season. With the win, JTG Daugherty can turn Stenhouse loose, and Fontana is a track that rewards — and punishes — aggressive drivers. The British were not supposed to hold off the Germans in WWII, but their plucky air force kept them alive. The motto of the Royal Air Force was “fortune favors the bold.” Fontana favors the bold, and the seasoned dirt tracker with a win in his back pocket will be bold.
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